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Bone idol

Mark Rouse was in Malta for the 2005 airshow - pictures by the author and Henry Spiteri

What started off as an idea way back in January became reality on 23 September when I set off to pick up my friend and travelling companion for this little trip - the plan was to travel out on the Friday night, catching the last flight out of Stansted airport to Luqa airport in Malta, spend all day Saturday at the show and then return to Stansted that same evening - one hell of a day trip!

On arrival at Luqa airport we had a few hours to kill before we could get to the showground so we were hoping that McDonald's would be open - no such luck! Still, it gave us a few hours to catch up on some sleep so that we would be ready to go when it mattered.

Fun in the sun

As we had press passes it meant that we had a couple of hours extra viewing to walk round the grounds before the general public arrived 'en masse'. The first thing I noticed when entering the showground was the lack of the usual fairground and all that clutter we get at our own shows. Having the extra few hours before hand was great as it meant that we did not have to fight for space round the statics in order to get a good shot, the relaxed friendly atmosphere putting you right at ease.

First in the static line were four RAF Hawks, followed by two F-16s from the Dutch Air Force and a couple of Tornado GR4s from Marham. Just along from those was - well, what I thought was - the specially marked Hellenic Air Force F-4E Phantom that had visited RIAT earlier in the year. It turned out that I was very wrong; it was in fact the specially marked F-4E from 337 Mira, which, as far as I am aware, has only ever been seen at Tanagra. I think that I am right when I say that this was the first time that the Hellenic Air Force had attended the Malta Air show.

With the early morning light playing with the colours on the F-4E, bouncing off in all directions, it was a delight to capture this fantastic colour scheme. As you walked along the static the sun was starting to strengthen, the heat playing optical illusions among the aircraft. Next it was nice to see a Harrier T10 from 20(R) Squadron, an item not seen that often at British airshows!

A further pleasing visitor to the show was a US Navy SH-60B from HLS-42, with some rather tasty artwork on it. In the same area was a pair of SH-3D Sea Kings from the Italian Navy, one from 1º Grupelicot and the other from 3º Grupelicot. The Italians also provided two A-109s (Guardia di Finanzia and Polizia), AB412, ATR42 and P166, all from the Guardia di Finanzia. Also on display was a P180.

As is common with many shows these days the display aircraft were parked up on the same side of the airfield as the crowd. As we had early entry we had the added bonus of being able to capture the displaying aircraft before they were roped off to the public - here we found a Tornado F3 from 56(R) Squadron; a pair of Jaguars from 41 Squadron, both with special marked tails; next to these was a pair of Harrier GR7s (one in 1 Squadron markings and the other from 20(R) Squadron) and, to round off the display aircraft, the pair of 208(R) Squadron Hawks in the very colourful 2005 display scheme! 'Foreign' (non-RAF) display aircraft comprised a pair of Dutch Air Force F-16s from 311 Squadron at Volkel and a pair of French Air Force Mirage 2000Cs, provided by EC 02.005 from Orange.

The next part of the static display was of the larger aircraft, namely a NATO E-3A, German Air Force C-160 and Atlantic. One of the star items that was lined up for us turned out to be one of the two B-1B Lancers from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess, Texas. These too were first time visitors to the show, the other airframe was there for the actual air display - more on that later!

The Maltese Air Force had on show examples of all their aircraft, as you would expect, which included an ex-RAF Bulldog T1, Allouette III and a Bell 47 - the Islander wasn't in the static but did fly later.

To round off the static park there was a Spitfire, Hurricane and a very nice ME-108 - the Spitfire and Hurricane returning to the island for the first time in sixty years. 'Merlins over Malta' (see our Duxford October show report) was the result of years of hard work for the Maltese team in conjunction with Clive Denney and his team, it taking approximately ten hours to get the aircraft to Malta via Jersey, France, Italy and then the island - it was a joy to see!

The flying display itself turned out to be quite unique, in that the airport uses a cross runway with the show stopping every couple of hours to allow the scheduled flights with holiday makers on board to land on the main runway - after fifteen minutes or so it was back to the show!

Opening the displays was the Italian Protezione Civile Bombardier CL451, which for me has to be one of the best openings I have ever seen! For those of you that haven't heard of this aircraft it's Italy's amphibious fire-fighting aircraft - the first thing to strike you is the bright yellow colours, followed by its exhilarating demo that consists of the pilot dropping a full tank of sea water down the runway, followed by a lot of tight turns, then back off to the Mediterranean to fill up the tanks for another run in and drop!

The fantastic display from the Italians was uplifting but we were soon brought back to down to earth, as up next was going to be a sad occasion - we were about to see the last-ever flying display of an aircraft that has brought joy to a lot of people - the Jaguar GR3. The routine (flown by display pilot Flt Lt Derek Sington from 41(F) Squadron) was a pleasure to watch. As the Jaguar taxied back past the crowd with the canopy up it was a fitting way to say goodbye to it. The ground crew and the pilots spent much time during the day talking to people about the classic GR3.

All of this took place before we reached lunchtime - we were about to be dazzled by a fantastic afternoon of flying from all involved. It started with a small, but well flown display by the stunningly turned out ME-108, followed by another drenching from the water-bombing Bombardier (three in one day!). The RAF Hawk followed on against the background of the most beautiful blue skies, performing nothing less than a spectacularly clean routine that one would expect at the end of its display season. Recently I have felt a little let-down and disappointed by the Tornado F3, as it used to fill me with excitement - however, this exhilaration was fully restored in Malta with the two RB199s blasting the F3 into the clear blue sky; the boys from 56(R) Squadron showed what it was like to display the mighty swing-wing fighter at its best. I have to say it was the best display I've ever seen from the F3 in all my years of going to airshows and little did I know it would be the last for sometime, as sadly it won't be on the display circuit in 2006.

It was then the turn of the home team - the Maltese Bulldogs put together a graceful display (yes, there were two of them). The Islander and the Allouette III demonstrated what they were capable of with nice, tight flying and a demo of the Alouette's lifting capacity. Not quite sure what the Health & Safety Executive back here in Blighty would have made of it - three 45-gallon drums in a cargo net flown around in front of the crowd!

To follow on from this was a true entertainer that is always a real crowd-pleaser. No matter what your interest is in aircraft, whether you are a real enthusiast or an enthusiast's poor wife or partner, the Harrier always catches your eye and this time was no different. With the stone-walled backdrop, the GR7 was in its element and this was the first time I'd see vortices come off the topside of the wing on a Harrier in clear, dry skies.

All of a sudden there was an almighty roar of engine power, which could only mean one thing - the B-1B, the star of the show. Lord only knows what the locals and the passengers sitting in the main terminal must have thought when they heard, and then saw, the only aircraft of the show to take off on the main runway go thundering past them with full afterburners glowing! It had to hold for a while as a few more tourists arrived and departed from their holidays, but once again the crowd was silenced as it came with wings forward at 2,000 ft plus for a slow pass - we thought it would be the normal standard display but how wrong I was! The next pass was a little different, the wings sweeping back and black smoke pouring out - the B-1 dropped lower until it was out of sight behind a building, then sweeping in at 500 mph plus and less than 800 ft it blasted past, straight into a rapid climb, finishing with a roll, stunning the crowd only to come round again for another fast pass and climb out again - one not to be forgotten in a hurry!

There was little left to see after the mesmerising display from the B-1B, which was a hard act to follow, but the Dutch Air Force F-16 flew a successfully stunning routine in perfect weather, leaving only the Mirage 2000C to do the same.

The time had now come for the show to draw to a close, which meant only one thing - the Red Arrows. The stage had been set and the sun was now dipping, providing them with a perfect background to perform their gracefully refined routine. The end of the airshow was signalled by the Allouette III flying down the show line trailing the flag of Malta from the underside of the aircraft - a fitting way to close a very good show!

To sum up, if you fancy a small friendly show atmosphere from an international show with great weather, great surroundings, with good access to the aircraft on the ground then it's about time you tried the Malta International Airshow.

I would like to thank Joe Ciliberti and René Camilleri and their team for all the help with this trip - it was a day to remember!

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